The Hands of the King Are Still the Hands of a Healer by Dreamflower

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Story Notes:

Written for the March 2017 Spring Fever challenge with the element chicory.

Notes on my resources can be found at the end of the story.

There are hints at unpleasant medical details. I tried to be subtle, but if those squick you, be warned.

Court was ended, and Elessar strode from the throne room; today's court had been somewhat boring and tedious. Truth be told, boring was better, since it meant that the Kingdom was at peace and there were no major troubles at hand, but it did make for a few hours of struggling to stay awake and show a semblance of interest. 

He was making his way to the small office he used as a hideaway more than for anything official (Official usually called for the large and grandly furnished room where he entertained dignitaries), when he was waylaid. "Strider! Wait up! I'm not so fast as I used to be!"

His guards, who had been following at a discreet distance sighed and stood aside. They had standing orders to always allow the King's old friends from the days of the Nine Walkers to approach him. Aragorn turned, and gave the hobbit a stern look, belied by the twinkle in his grey eyes and a twitch at the corner of his mouth. "I am waiting up, Peregrin Took!" 

The elderly hobbit came closer, his walking stick a rhythmic patter on the cold stone floors. He was puffing only slightly. He was fit enough for a hundred-and-one, though he did walk always with his stick, did not move nearly so quickly as he had when he was younger. "Where is your cousin, Pippin?" Since retiring to Gondor, the two were rarely seen apart.

"Ah, well, er, that's what I'd like to talk to you about." The hobbit glanced at the guards. "Maybe someplace less public?"

The King took a couple of steps and pushed open the door to his office. He gestured for the hobbit to precede him. 

Once they were in and comfortably seated, Aragorn tried again. "What is the problem with Merry?"  

"Merry's still a-bed, and feeling quite sluggish. He's been cranky and contrary for days. I offered to find one of the healers and he told me off rather forcefully." Pippin shrugged. "He'd send away any of the regular healers. He can't send you away, you're the King."

Aragorn leaned forward. "Do you have any notion of why he's feeling poorly?"

"Well," Pippin fell silent, obviously trying to think of how to answer the question. "He, uh, hasn't made, solid use of his chamber pot in days." He blushed to the tips of his ears. 

Aragorn suppressed a smile. In spite of their ages, Pippin always remained "little Pip" to his older cousin. It went hard on Pippin to tell something Merry wanted kept quiet, though his worry for Merry's health had prompted him to speak up. But this was a problem solved simply enough, though it might be unpleasant for Merry.  "Let me get my medical satchel, and send a note to the herbalist." He reached across the table he used for a desk, picked up a pen, and scrawled a short note. "Come along, Sir Peregrin!"

As they went down the hallway, with Aragorn trying to abate his usual stride to accommodate the hobbit at his side, he handed his note to a page who sat near his office to do his bidding if needed. "Take this to the apothecary at the Houses of Healing, and wait for him to give you a packet. Bear that to me at the quarters of the pherriannath here in the Citadel. Do you know where to go, lad?" For he noticed it was a new boy.

His eyes grew wide, but he nodded briskly. "Yes, sire!" he said with a bow, as he had been taught.

"Very good. Off you go then!" and without a look to see if the child had gone, he and Pippin made their way down to the rooms that had been set aside for the elderly hobbits when they had come to the City.

Merry was not in his bed when they entered the room. Instead he was hobbling around, bent over and grasping his middle. He gave Pippin a venomous look. "I  see you had to go and tell, didn't you?"

Aragorn gave him a stern look. "Enough, Master Brandybuck! Your cousin was just looking after you, as you have always done for him."

His glare was transferred to the King, but gradually softened with shame. "I'm sorry, Pip, but this is so bloody embarrassing. You are right, Strider." He tried to stand up straight and then moaned, and shook his head.

Aragorn took two large steps, and swept the old hobbit up in his arms, and went back to the rumpled bed. Pippin came and smoothed the sheets and covers and fluffed the pillows without being told; then Aragorn carefully laid Merry back into the bed and propped him up.

"I know you have already tried some remedies. Tell me what you have done." Merry was by way of being an expert on herbal remedies himself, and Aragorn was certain he would already have dosed himself.

"Well, first of all stewed prunes. I've never known those to fail before," said Merry. "Rhubarb works, but it's the wrong time of year for rhubarb."

"And then we tried honey and warm water," added Pippin.

"If we had wild succory or buckthorn bark, they might be of use." Merry sighed. "I brought a lot of herbs from the Shire that could have worked, but I ran out of most of them long ago, or they lost their potency." He made a face as he suffered another cramp.

"I see. Well, I know that the herbalist in the Houses of Healing happens to keep a tonic of chicory--which is what they call wild succory here in the South--on hand. When Pippin told  me of the nature of your difficulty I sent a page to fetch some. If it does not work, Merry, there is only one other solution..."

Merry gave a shudder. Then he whispered, "That's one reason I didn't want to see a healer. Once, when I was about ten, Mum had the healer at Brandy Hall give me an enema. I didn't much like it."

"No one does," Aragorn replied. "Let us try the tonic first. If you have no results by tomorrow, then we will consider the other option."

There was a tap at the door. "That should be the page," said Pippin, as he went to answer. Indeed it would, and Pippin returned with a green glass bottle, which he handed over to Aragorn.

Merry scowled. "If that tonic is made of wild succory, it's going to taste nasty."

"Yes, it is," Aragorn replied.  He took up the empty water cup on Merry's bedside table and poured a small amount of the tonic into it.

Merry took the cup, made a face at it, and then swallowed it down quickly. "Yaghh! That's awful!" He gave a disgusted shudder.

"You should try to get some rest if you can, Merry." Aragorn turned to Pippin. "Keep an eye on him, Pippin. I'll give directions for some soup to be brought up. Liquid meals are best until things begin to move. Please send for me if you need me."

As the King left the room, Pippin had clambered up onto the bed next to his cousin. "Shall I sing for you, Merry?" he asked.

"Yes, Pip, if you please..." He began to sing softly:

When I was a lad so free
I had no cares to worry me,
Save what to drink and when to dine...

The King closed the door behind him.

Aragorn stopped by the next morning. His eyes watered, for the room smelled overwhelmingly of candlewax and orange blossom and soap, with a much less pleasant odour beneath. There were still scented candles burning. The windows were wide open. Merry was asleep, and Pippin sat next to him, stroking his brow. Pippin was looking wan and worn, every bit of his age.

"I take it that the problem is now solved?" He asked the hobbit.

Pippin nodded. "It was a rather unpleasant night," he said. "But the servants came in and helped us clean up." He sighed. "Merry was dreadfully embarrassed."

"He will feel better now, though. I am quite sure that you did not get much sleep yourself."

Pippin shrugged. "He's spent his share of sleepless nights worrying over me."

"I think, though, that now it is you who needs rest." Aragorn scooped the old hobbit up in his arms, and Pippin did not protest as he was carried to his own bed and tucked in like a faunt.

"Thank you, Strider. You are uncommonly good to us, when you have so much more important things to deal with."

"I cannot think of any at the moment," he replied. "Now, get some sleep. If both of you are rested and feeling up to it, you are invited to a private supper with the Queen and I tonight."

Pippin grinned. "Well, that thought should give me pleasant dreams."

The King bent over and gave the old hobbit a kiss upon his forehead, and then laid a hand on top of his head. "Sleep, Sir Peregrin Took, and dream of the Shire."

Pippin closed his eyes and soon was snoring softly. Aragorn watched for a few moments before going quietly out.

Chapter End Notes:

A Botanical Herbal by  Mrs. M. Grieve
Home of the electronic version of "A Modern Herbal" by Maud Grieve, originally published in 1931.

Synonyms Succory. Wild Succory. Hendibeh. Barbe de Capucin. 
Part Used Root. 
Habitat Wild Chicory or Succory is not uncommon in many parts of England and Ireland, though by no means a common plant in Scotland. It is more common on gravel or chalk, especially on the downs of the south-east coast, and in places where the soil is of a light and sandy nature, when it is freely to be found on waste land, open borders of fields and by the roadside, and is easily recognized by its tough, twig-like stems, along which are ranged large, bright blue flowers about the size and shape of the Dandelion. Sir Jas. E. Smith, founder of the Linnean Society, says of the tough stems: 'From the earliest period of my recollection, when I can just remember tugging ineffectual with all my infant strength at the tough stalks of the wild Succory, on the chalky hills about Norwich....'


Part Used Medicinally The root. When dried - in the same manner as Dandelion it is brownish, with tough, loose, reticulated white layers surrounding a radiate, woody column. It often occurs in commerce crowned with remains of the stem. It is inodorous and of a mucilaginous and bitter taste. 
Constituents A special bitter principle, not named, inulin and sugar. 
Medicinal Action and Uses Chicory has properties similar to those of Dandelion, its action being tonic, laxative and diuretic.

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